The Ontario Tories finally get their star candidate

By Steve Paikin - Published on August 4, 2017
Man in foreground is watched by woman in background.
Through her father, Brian (left), few people have a better idea of what political life is like than Caroline Mulroney (right). (Fred Chartrand/CP)

Comments

X

This has been an agonizing past year for the eldest offspring of a former Canadian prime minister. And no, I’m not referring to Justin Trudeau.

For at least the past 12 months and likely more, Caroline Mulroney has been weighing the pros and cons of making a move into elective politics.

I spoke to Mulroney several weeks ago about all this, and she still was still mulling over her options, still undecided at that time about what to do.

You could tell that the current Ontario Tory leader, Patrick Brown, was courting her big-time. Every time Brown made a speech at the Canadian Club or the Empire Club and Mulroney was in the audience, the leader made a point of acknowledging and complimenting her on her volunteer efforts. And according to a high-ranking PC  party source, Brown’s backroom team held the York-Simcoe riding in their hip pockets, declining to call a date for a nomination meeting, despite a lengthy list of interested candidates. Julia Munro, the longest serving female MPP in provincial history, has held the seat for the PCs since 1995 but has decided not to seek re-election.

That seat. located in York Region and Simcoe County, is one of the safest PC seats in the province, and Brown wanted it saved for his star candidate, if only she’d take the plunge.

The behind-the-scenes conversations have been ongoing, but based on my conversations with her, Mulroney has been understandably conflicted about diving in.

First, she likes her current professional life a lot. She’s got a good job on Bay Street, does good works in the community, and helps oversee fundraising for the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University. She also has four young children, just like Brian and Mila did when they inhabited 24 Sussex. 

So before agreeing to run for office, Mulroney had to be as sure as one can be 10 months before election day that she had confidence in the party’s leader, and his prospects for delivering the first PC election victory since 1999. It’s a rare occasion when a rookie candidate’s profile outshines the leader, but such is the case with Mulroney and Brown.

She clearly understood the vote of confidence her getting into politics would signal regarding Brown’s leadership, and she had to make sure he was worthy of it. Furthermore, one doesn’t give up the kind of life Mulroney now enjoys to sit on the opposition back benches. And almost certainly, if both she and Brown end up in government after the June 7, 2018, election, she will be a prominent member of his cabinet.

She definitely had a lot to think about before she threw her hat in the ring. Having said that, there are few prospective candidates who have a better idea of what they’re signing up for than Caroline Mulroney.

Whether you liked his politics or didn’t, one can’t deny her father was (and is) one of the most brilliant political minds in the country’s history. Prime Minister Mulroney won consecutive majority governments (the first Conservative PM since John A. Macdonald to do so), introduced transformational policies (free trade, GST, ambitious attempts at constitutional reform), and managed to keep his caucus loyal to him when his popularity was so low that more people thought Elvis was still alive than approved of his government. Caroline Mulroney had a front row seat for all of that, and surely has the political savvy and dedication to public life which that entails.

The other interesting thing about this story is that Canadians have probably been under the impression that if any of the Mulroney offspring were to jump into politics, it would have been Ben, given his interest in it, and his huge name recognition from hosting popular television programs for many years.

But in speaking to former prime minister Mulroney last year, he told me Ben’s longtime friendship with the current prime minister meant Ben would never enter federal politics and challenge his friend Justin.

Then Mulroney added something else that surprised me, given that no one was openly speculating about any of the other Mulroney children at that time.

“You want to know the one to watch?” I remember him asking me. “You watch Caroline Mulroney. Beautiful like her mother. Loves people. Smart as hell. She’ll give anyone a run for their money.”

We’re about to find out just how true that is.

CLARIFICATION: The article originally stated that the riding of York-Simcoe is in York Region. It is actually located in both York Region and Simcoe County. 

Related: The countdown to Ontario election 2018

Author
Thinking of your experience with tvo.org, how likely are you to recommend tvo.org to a friend or colleague?
Not at all Likely
Extremely Likely

Most recent on TVO